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Becoming a Long-Haul Trucker

The call of the open road is just one of the pluses of becoming a long-haul trucker, also known as heavy truck drivers or tractor-trailer drivers. These professionals transport freight across long distances in vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) that's greater than 26,000 pounds. (The GVW combines the weight of the truck, cargo, and passengers.)
The position can offer benefits, such as health insurance and vacation, for those who choose to be employed by a company. Those who prefer to work as owner-operators can be their own boss and define when and how they work and for how much.

Training for the Career

Most companies require at least a high-school diploma or equivalent and training from professional truck-driving schools. The programs of study can last from three to six months and are available from community colleges, vocational institutes, or private truck-driving schools. Students learn how to maneuver their rigs on open highways and crowded city streets as well as the standards, rules, and regulations governing their profession across all states. When finished, they receive a certificate of completion.
Truckers also require a commercial driver's license (CDL). Requirements for this differ by state but typically demand passing a written knowledge test and a driving test. CDL suspensions from another state may prevent drivers from receiving the license in another state. Suspensions may also occur if drivers are convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or if they commit a felony using a motor vehicle. Federal regulations mandate random drug testing of truck drivers who are off duty.
Endorsements are available in the license that indicate the ability to drive specialized trucks or transport specific materials. For example, a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) endorsement is necessary for those who transport toxic or potentially dangerous freight.
Once a trucker is hired, he usually undergoes on-the-job training that lasts from one to three months. He learns about company procedures and the specific on the freight he'll carry under the watchful eye of a veteran mentor-driver who occupies the passenger seat.

Employment and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the average salaries of long-haul truckers at $40,940 per year, or $19.68 per hour. The lowest earners make less than an annual $25,330, or $12.18 an hour, while the best-paid can make in excess of $59,620 per year, or $28.66 per hour.
Over a third of the jobs are in general freight trucking where pay averages $42,260 yearly, or $20.32 hourly. Ranking second for employment is specialized freight trucking with mean wages of $41,170 per year, or $19.80 per hour. At third are grocery and related product merchant wholesalers paying an average $44,660 annually, or $21.47 hourly.
The highest pay is with other electrical equipment and component manufacturing at a mean $67,190 per year, or $32.30 per hour. Next come wired telecommunications carriers, averaging an annual $58,630, or $28.19, followed by couriers and express delivery services at a mean $58,520 per year, or $28.13 per hour.
The states with the most employment for truckers are Texas, averaging $40,570 per year, or $19.50 per hour; California at a mean $42,530 annually, or $20.45 hourly, and Pennsylvania at a mean $42,340 per year, or $20.36 per hour.
For high pay, Alaska tops the list, averaging $53,440 yearly, or $25.69 hourly. North Dakota is next at a mean $47,580 per year, or $22.88 an hour, followed by Massachusetts at a mean annual $47,170, or $22.68 per hour.
The metro with the most positions is Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Illinois, averaging $48,700 per year, or $23.42 per hour. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, is next at a mean annual $47,140 per year, or $22.66 per hour. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, California, rounds up the top three with mean wages of $42,210 per year, or $20.29 per hour.
The cities with the best pay are Peabody, Massachusetts, averaging $55,680 per year, or $26.77 per hour. Fairbanks, Alaska, is next, averaging $54,410 a year, or $26.16 an hour. At third is Anchorage, Alaska, at a mean yearly $53,820, or $25.87 hourly.


According to the BLS, employment for heavy-haul truckers is projected to increase by 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is the same percentage as for all other jobs in the country. The amount is slightly more than the 9 percent job growth predicted for all motor vehicle operators.
The demand will come from a growing population that needs goods that drivers transport. Rising fuel prices will also play a role as shippers move from rail to lower-cost trucks. Much of the increase will be in oil and gas industry as those enterprises need their materials among mining sites, refineries, and retail distributors.
Job prospects should be favorable because many companies are finding it difficult to hire competent long-haul drivers. Many potential workers shy from the profession because of its long and unpredictable hours, and the time needed to be away from home.